How I Became a Spy: A Mystery of WWII London

How I Became a Spy: A Mystery of WWII London

by Deborah Hopkinson


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From the award-winning author of The Great Trouble comes a story of espionage, survival, and friendship during World War II.

Bertie Bradshaw never set out to become a spy. He never imagined traipsing around war-torn London, solving ciphers, practicing surveillance, and searching for a traitor to the Allied forces. He certainly never expected that a strong-willed American girl named Eleanor would play Watson to his Holmes (or Holmes to his Watson, depending on who you ask).

But when a young woman goes missing, leaving behind a coded notebook, Bertie is determined to solve the mystery. With the help of Eleanor and his friend David, a Jewish refugee--and, of course, his trusty pup, Little Roo--Bertie must decipher the notebook in time to stop a double agent from spilling the biggest secret of all to the Nazis.

From the author of The Great Trouble, this suspenseful WWII adventure reminds us that times of war call for bravery, brains and teamwork from even the most unlikely heroes.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399557064
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 02/12/2019
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 136,110
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

DEBORAH HOPKINSON has written more than 40 books for young readers. She is the author of the middle-grade novels The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel; A Bandit's Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket; and Into the Firestorm: A Novel of San Francisco, 1906. Her picture books include Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt; Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building, an ALA-ALSC Notable Children's Book and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book; Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek, an ALA-ALSC Notable Children's Book and a Junior Library Guild Selection; A Boy Called Dickens; and the ALA Notable Book Apples to Oregon. Visit her at and follow her at @deborahopkinson.

Read an Excerpt

You see, but you do not observe.
--Sherlock Holmes, in “A Scandal in Bohemia”
I kept my head down as I went around the curve, hoping the pan wouldn’t fly off my head. With my right hand, I steadied my quivering spaniel and tried to keep her from toppling out of the basket. Still, even one-handed, I swear I would’ve made the turn with no problem.
Except. Except the girl was standing in the middle of Maddox Street. I shouted, “Hey, watch out!”
Too late. I had to let go of Little Roo. I grabbed both handlebars and pulled hard to the left. I wasn’t quick enough. My right pedal struck the girl’s shin; we all went down. I banged my left knee. The pan clattered away and LR tumbled out of the basket. She bounced up and began barking and twirling in circles like a crazy windup toy. Overhead, bombers roared. From the ground, ack-ack guns shot defensive fire into the sky. I scrambled to my feet, rubbing my knee.
“Are you all right?” I yelled over the din.
The girl didn’t answer at first. I reached out a hand to help her up. She pushed it away. “Why don’t you watch where you’re going?”
“Me? You were standing in the street! You’re lucky I wasn’t a bus: You would’ve been crushed flat.”
Then I stopped. Pointless. It was pointless to argue. I could tell from her accent that the girl was an American. The city was crawling with them. Soldiers in uniform, journalists, navy and army officers sporting stripes and medals, young women in crisp American Red Cross uniforms. Everyone had come to prepare for the invasion of France. It was the only way the Allies could defeat Hitler and end the war.
I knew as well as anyone that we needed the Americans, but there was a part of me that resented these strangers. They hadn’t been here during the worst of it. Three years ago, the Blitz had gone on and on. We’d lived through all-night bombing raids, incendiary bombs designed to burn London to the ground, rubble and destruction on street after street. A lot of kids had been sent to the countryside. My older brother, Will, and I had begged to stay.
The Americans hadn’t lived through that. Compared to us Londoners, they seemed to burst with hope and energy. Maybe they just ate better. They had money to eat in restaurants, where (so we heard) you could  still get “real” food. They hadn’t spent years waiting in long queues, ration cards in hand, to buy food that didn’t taste much like food.
Latecomers. Too late to change what had happened to us.
Dad, as always, looked on the bright side. “We can’t achieve victory without them, Bertie,” he explained. “Britain needs American troops and trucks and tanks. We need them all. Be polite when you encounter anyone from the United States.”
And so I tried again. “Sorry I knocked you down, miss. I’m a civil defense volunteer. It’s my job to tell you to get to the shelter immediately. It’s just up the street.”
The girl snorted as she stood. She brushed off her coat. “You don’t look very official. You look like a kid. And was that a tin pan on your head?”
I felt my face burn. “I’m thirteen. It’s just . . . this is the first time I’ve been on duty during a raid and I couldn’t find--”
That was as far as I got. All at once, the night splintered apart. Whoomph. Bam!
“Get down!” I hollered. I had just enough time to grab LR and throw myself to the pavement. I curled over her warm, furry body and whispered, “It’ll be all right, girl.”
We were lucky. I felt the ground shake, but the bomb had hit nearby, most likely a block or two away. I glanced up to check on the stranger. What is she even doing out alone at dusk? I wondered. Most people headed inside on a late winter afternoon, especially now that the German bombing raids had begun again.
“Please, miss . . . it’s not safe to be out.”
The girl shot to her feet. “I’ve got to go.”
And then she was gone, flying off down the street, her dark blue coat flapping against her thin legs. Good, I thought. Maybe the noise has scared her. Maybe she’ll follow directions and get to safety.
“Go past the big church on your left,” I bellowed. “You’ll see the sign for the shelter to your right.” I couldn’t be entirely sure, but it looked as if she’d darted right past it. I shrugged. Well, she wasn’t my problem. Time to get to the command post.
LR wriggled out of my arms and started sniffing around. I went searching for the tin pan to stick back on my head. Next thing I knew, LR was at my feet, tail spinning like a propeller. Woof! Out came a muffled bark. Her little jaws were clamped onto something. “What have you got, LR? Drop it!”
I was about to reach for the object when the sound of footsteps startled me. I turned to see an older couple passing by, heading in the same direction as the girl. “Let’s go, dear,” the man called to the woman. “Almost there.”
“I’m a civil defense volunteer,” I hollered. “Take shelter now!”
“Thanks, lad, but we’re almost home,” the man said, reaching out to grab his wife’s hand. “We’ve got a Morrison shelter under our kitchen table. We’ll be safe.”
A hatless young man with short dark hair came bounding right behind them. I tried my warning again. “Get to the shelter!”
He shot me a frown. I had a quick impression of an angular face and intense, blazing eyes. He looked preoccupied, as if he had something else on his mind besides ack-ack guns. And then, like the other three, he hurried off down Maddox Street.
“I give up! No one pays me any attention,” I complained to LR, who was still wagging and waiting for me to claim what she’d discovered. I picked up a battered red notebook, small enough to fit in my trouser pocket. I slipped it in without thinking much about it, then reached out for LR.

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How I Became a Spy: A Mystery of WWII London 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
AlexBaugh More than 1 year ago
I loved reading How I Became a Spy. Not only is it full of historical references, but for added interest and authenticity, Hopkinson has also peopled it with some real, if not necessarily, familiar people, such as General Dwight Eisenhower, Leo Marks, a SOE code maker, and she modeled the character of Warden Ita, of the Civil Defense after the real air-raid warden E. Ita Ekpenyon, who was born in Nigeria. The story is narrated by Bertie, 12, who is a lively character despite living with the memory of his paralyzing fear during the Blitz that caused injury to his older brother, Will and who alway feels like he has disappointed his father. The novel takes place over the course of one week, beginning on Friday, February 18, 1944 and ending on Thursday, February 24, 1944, plus an Epilogue dated Sunday, July 2, 1944. The one week perimeter adds to the excitement and tension of needing to decode the pages written in cipher and then getting the information into the hands of the right people. The bombing of London by the Luftwaffe in 1944, often referred to as the "Baby Blitz" isn't generally the setting for historical fiction, let alone that written for middle graders, making this a great addition to the body of home front literature. One of my favorite things about How I Became a Spy is that Hopkinson has included four different ciphers scattered throughout the book, allowing readers to learn about some of the different kinds of ciphers they work alone with Bertie, David, and Eleanor. There is a Simple Substitution Cipher, a Caesar Cipher, a Atbash Cipher, and a Mixed-Alphabet Cipher. And at one point, they make and use a Cipher Wheel. I really liked this hands on activity for kids to try. How I Became a Spy is an engaging historical fiction novel with engaging characters that will surely have wide-spread appeal. I can't recommend it highly enough.